Jarring past

After spending our last day together with a traditional sauna and massage in a temple in Vientiane I said goodbye to my friend and headed to a small town in the north east of Laos. Phonsavan is a dusty town which struggle to hold tourists and travellers interest longer than a day. Initially I planned to stay 2 days, hoping to see some sights and some relaxed time with a book and few cups of coffees, but after less than 24 hours, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

What brought me here was the hundreds if not thousands of ancient stone jars of all sizes lie scattered in a plain just outside of town. I rented a motorbike and rode through the padi fields to see these mysterious jars. Getting there was straight forward enough and the good thing about riding a motorbike in Laos is that there’s never too much traffic.

These mysterious jars have been lying on this plateau without any discernible order for many centuries. Scientists and historians still can’t agree on their origin nor their purpose. We can play the game of speculation or listen to locals tell you the legends. One old lady told me that they believe these jars were used to make lao-lao (Laotian rice wine) to celebrate a King’s victory. If that’s true, there was a lot of lao-lao for one celebration.

The day I went, it was a grey day with dark clouds loom threateningly overhead. Besides a handful of other tourists, I was the only one there. The place was quiet and serene. It’s a very spiritual place, full of ghosts trying to tell you their stories if you can and are willing to listen. I felt peaceful while roaming around the jars, peeking in them and sitting under a tree to take in the view.

Competing with the jars for my attentions were the craters created by bombs dropped during the Secret war in Laos in the 1960s. These craters are hallowing reminders of the horror of war, but what’s more hallowing are the unexploded ordinances (UXOs), or better known as mines still lie buried waiting for the unsuspecting victim in order to rear their ugly heads. The peaceful setting suddenly took on a dangerous undertone. Almost all well worn paths are safe and the least used paths have yellow bricks lining its border and signs telling you not to step outside the lines.

It’s worth a visit if you are in the vicinity. It seems that business is booming and soon it’ll be in every travellers itinerary. Just to be on the save side, don’t drink any lao-lao before visiting.

About the Author


A modern nomad who wanders around the world calling no place home and every place his Ithaca



Thanks for the post. I was wondering how the plain of Jars was…because I missed it while traveling in Laos. Funny to hear you couldn’t stay in Phonsavan for very long. What was wrong with it? Just a typical dusty, forlorn Lao town? Looking forward to more posts from you SE Asia adventures.


There’s nothing wrong with Phonsavan, it’s just that after spending 3 days doing nothing in Vientiane, I wanted to do more things, activities. But there’s nothing else to do there besides the plain of jars. Although there are 3 sites to go to, they are basically the same.


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